After almost a century on the market, the can lays claim to being world’s most recycled, sustainable and innovative drinks package
BCME (Beverage Can Makers Europe) is celebrating 75 years of the drinks can as the pack enters its Diamond Anniversary year in its most environmentally friendly incarnation ever.
Over the decades, through a series of technical innovations, this versatile and refreshing drinks container, first used to package beer in 1935, has become completely integrated into our modern lifestyles accounting for more than 25% of all carbonated soft drinks and beer packaging in Europe. It also brings more sustainability characteristics than any other drinks container on the market.
Continual lightweighting of the beverage can means it is now possible to produce three times as many cans from the same amount of virgin material as it was 30 years ago. Today, the 330ml tinplate can weighs just 21g; the aluminium can just 10g, with a wall thickness thinner than a human hair.
Going forward, some further reductions in the weight of the can are likely but it is now recognised that boosting recycling rates offers the potential for significant environmental benefits in terms of carbon emissions and resource conservation. The European average for can recycling is 65% per cent and has increased steadily. With a target to have three out of every four cans recycled in the future, the need for virgin material and energy will be further reduced. When recycling a can, 75 – 95% of the energy is saved.
Innovations such as digital printing, embossing, thermochromic inks, self-cooling, and resealable cans, have also made the can one of the coolest, most convenient drinks packages on the market.
"What appeared on the market almost a century ago is loved by today’s modern consumer as an environmentally friendly, stylish container, perfect for on-the-go consumption," said BCME spokesperson Caroline Archer.
Can timeline – key dates in the history of the beverage can:
1935: The first canned beer is sold by US brewer Gottfried Krueger, in Richmond, Virginia
1953: Cans are used to package soft drinks for the first time
Early 1960s: Introduction of two-piece aluminium can enabling faster production and use of less metal
1975: Introduction of stay-on tab, or ‘ecology end’ – a key sustainability development.
1992: Introduction of the ‘widget’
1995-2010: Introduction of innovations such as large opening end (or ‘gulper’), under-tab printing, thermochromic and light-sensitive inks, digital printing, embossing, self-heating and self-chilling cans and resealable cans
2009: 51 billion beverage cans filled in Europe alone
It is possible to recycle a can indefinitely without quality deterioration, with recycling saving up to 95 per cent of energy needed to produce virgin material with a corresponding reduction in CO2 emissions.